The three men led the way to the docking hatch in their lumbering suits. Ariel followed daintily, now wreathed in an elaborate dress. As they walked along the hallway, many crew members and lesser officials rushed up to see the Protoss ambassador with their own eyes. How sorely disappointed were they when they found out that the Protoss weren't about to let one of their own become akin to a zoo exhibit - a modest young lady certainly didn't go far in exciting a crowd expecting alien visages and paraphernalia (there was a lot of wooing going on, however). Soon the crowd had dispersed and Ariel had found two willing tour guides in Sarlena and James, leaving Daniel and Christopher nearly alone at the bridge.
To be honest with himself meant that Daniel would have to acknowledge that he had never thought of how he was going to build a base. Never had he expected to actually be tasked with overseeing the construction of one, and he certainly didn't have a detailed understanding of what went into base construction. Sure, plenty of highly detailed detailed blueprints for just about everything a typical base would want were on board the Hyperion that he could investigate, but it just seemed out of his league.
"Hey Chris! I don't want the completed base printer to rest idle while we decide just what we want it to build. I want that decision made now. We really need to have some kind of general outline for our new base. "
"You mean you want a general overview?"
"Go ahead," said Daniel as Christopher brought up various blueprint files on his computer and sat down right beside Daniel, turning the computer's screen so that both could easily see what was on it.
It was a blueprint for a fusion cutter, the long, roughly cylindrical mining device. "The fusion cutter. We can use it unmodified to extract the variety of resources needed for base construction. Eight of them should be enough to supply our building printer indefinitely, though of course more would be necessary for supplying resources for our production facilities." Then was the vespene refinery, which resembled an oil refinery of old. "Its counterpart, the refinery. It is built on sources of vespene gas and converts them into the solid, incredibly dense, usable form that all our starcraft use for fuel, nahqadah. It is entirely unnecessary for ground forces, infantry and vehicle. We would need only one refinery for the forces we have now, provided we aren't planning to use them frequently." As Christopher introduced these structures, Daniel found himself nodding in agreement. But the interesting stuff was only beginning.
Next up was the building printer. The incredibly high-tech device was shaped like a cube but was several hundred feet long, wide, and tall, and had an incredible number of fine moving parts. "As you know, nowadays practically everything big is built with a building printer as opposed to using scores of SCV's. It's akin to using a laser printer to print a document instead of writing it by hand: it's hundreds, if not thousands, of times faster and far more economical for producing anything other than makeshift bunkers. All we have to do to create buildings after we have such a building printer is to have blueprint files made via any modern computer-aided-design software. However, the printer itself is built from scratch by SCV's, making it one of the most labor-intensive procedures in base construction.
"My plans - plans I had designed during those pointless hours on Mar Sara - involve building such a base printer and keeping it working 24/7 - at least initially. There are a host of other buildings that we must build in as short a time as possible, especially the supply depots, since the supplies on board the dropships will run out in approximately two weeks and we need the inaptly-named depots to replenish them. By then we must have built enough supply depots to keep everyone fed, and we have a lot of people with us: 40,000. Each supply depot is the size of a house and can provide for up to thousand of us, so you see how much needs to be done. Now, I'm not suggesting that we greatly change the design of the supply depot, but we will need to downgrade the food quality if we are to stay on schedule and not have certain people starve to death and at the same time get people proper room and board.
"Room and board is critically important - not only for morale but for our peoples' health. Cramming two thousand people on each dropship, while quite below maximum capacity, still has the feeling of congested urgency, like a cattle car. Five hundred to a dropship is more like it, but that would mean that the other 35,000 would have to find somewhere else to go or be evicted, and the extremely radioactive Korhal IV isn't the best place for them to stay without shelter. Now, the Confederacy never had the need to design ramshackle housing for its people, opting for opulence and grandeur, but that is a luxury we morally shouldn't be indulging in. I've designed a simple residential tower blueprint, two thousand beds each, one that would give everyone plenty of space to live in. According to optimal build schedules, all eighteen such towers needed to support our people should be built in three weeks by the single building printer, giving them secondary priority after supply depots and fusion cutters. And now, on to the true military buildings."
Christopher brought up the blueprint of the hemispherical command center. "This is a typical Confederate command center that we found on board the Hyperion's data archives. I figured we would forgo this altogether since we the Hyperion serves very well as a command post in its own right." Next up was the engineering bay blueprint, shaped like a car. "Typical engineering bay. It produces all infantry weapons with which those graduating from barracks are armed. Now, I made some significant changes to it, seeing as how having people walking around in armored suits isn't the best idea." He brought up his own, alternative blueprint for an entirely different engineering bay.
"Are you saying that your new soldiers are going to be drones?"
"No. Conventional wisdom says that drones, even with the superior AI of modern technology, can't work well when situations drastically change, at least not as well as people can. So my original plan was not to use drones controlled by AI, but to have the bots be controlled by humans back from base. The ansible is instrumental in applying this strategy, as it means that such commands can be sent from one planet to military forces on another instantly. So you see, it comes with all the benefits of not putting lives at risk and none of the downsides."
"Very nice, Chris! However... you mentioned that this was your original plan."
"Ah yes. This is no longer what I have in mind for this base. Simply put, we don't need an engineering bay. The Confederates had plenty of engineering bays across their worlds and plenty good it did for them. Originally, when I had envisioned my plans, I had not expected war to be fought with such swiftness and with such overwhelming numbers. Pitted against the might of the Zerg swarm we saw back on Tarsonis, even a million such bots would be a pittance, and we certainly don't have the manpower to use them all simultaneously given we have around 40,000 people with us here in total and ninety percent of them are civilians. Ground soldiers are simply useless against naval forces and what they are best for - keeping populated places under the government's control - isn't quite as needed as being able to fend off the Zerg."
"So... it seems like we simply won't be needing it at all."
"Exactly. The barracks, however, may be modified into a building that can teach the civilians out here what we expect from them in the case of an attack, by or against us. We need for them to understand the workings of our military if we are to hope to tap into their manpower for controlling additional forces, since we don't have much of a reserve military body."
"We also have the option of building freestanding bunkers and missile turrets, though if the war really will be waged in space as I for one am expecting, we probably will have next to no use for them," added Daniel.
"Always better to have a mobile force," agreed Christopher. "And so, even though I also made a new design for a vehicle factory, I've decided that it's better off scrapped as well. No ground-based force can withstand a concentrated space-borne invasion because they can only defend within a few miles of their location and move incredibly slowly over land whereas the Zerg can strike where ever they wish, across the star systems, within minutes. Even if they don't attack the concentrated ground force, they can easily destroy everything else on the planet without having to engage them at all. All nahqadah-fueled craft with gravitic drives - essentially all starcraft - can go from north pole to south pole in under three minutes. The fastest ground unit - the speedbike - takes thirty hours. So, my conclusion is this: no more Vultures, no more Goliaths, and no more Mjolnirs.
"Instead we should be focusing all production after the first two-three weeks on constructing armories and starports. The armories I will have to redesign blueprints for, which will take all of three weeks to do. I intend for a solitary armory to be able to produce plenty of reactive armor for the new vessels we will be producing, another to specialize on producing burst lasers. The starports I have already made blueprints for; they will focus on strictly producing remote-controlled Wraiths, without frigate or battlecruiser production capabilities. In their place I plan to introduce a new Harbinger-class carrier that will have no weapons but have enough hangar space for 72 starfighters, as well as a complement of SCV's to repair wraiths."
"So you believe future battles will not be waged with frigates and battlecruisers, but with wraiths? That's a gamble," said Daniel.
"Well, in any fight against hostile human fleets such a preponderance toward light craft will be a severe disadvantage. However, currently we don't really need to trouble ourselves with the Confederacy and the Sons of Korhal as they have their own problems. We instead need to focus our attention on the Zerg, against which we keep on overdoing it with our missile firepower. Burst lasers should be good enough against their dracolisks, for example; using Halo rockets would be overkill."
"Harbinger class," mused Daniel, letting the name roll over in his mouth. "I really do like that name."
"And finally we will need a massive command center, one from which people back on Korhal IV can direct battles on distant planets."
"Excellent! Sounds good to me. Why don't you get our people working on that then; I'll put you in charge of the base construction operation here. We should also set our scientists to work researching new technologies, like the nanites I only learned about on Tarsonis, and for analysis of the Protoss technologies."
At this point, Michael, unfortunate enough to be in the room at that time, started breaking down--
"Uh... what's wrong with him?" interjected another official before promptly shutting up.
"I believe that our hope to survival as a race depends on our abilities to produce robotic 'drones' that can fight our battles for us--preferably, even better than we can do so ourselves, whether it be in a cloakable, light combat vest or in a heavy combat suit, whether as the gunner of a Mjolnir siege tank or as a crew member aboard a starcraft--"
Michael had by now broken into open sobbing; it seemed the experiences of the past were still getting to him. Dutifully, and full of the seriousness of a doctor coming to a patient with dire news of a terminal illness, those nearest to the traumatized fellow carried him out into the next room, the walls only partially blocking out the man's tortured cries. Christopher realized that the man was hopeless; trauma that had struck so deep would not go away for the rest of his life. Michael no longer experienced any joy; he was just another casualty of war.
At that moment Ariel returned from her tour of the Hyperion alongside James and Sarlena, with a delighted expression on her face. Daniel smiled, eager to forget the episode regarding Michael. "So, Ariel, you had fun exploring the ship, I presume?"
Ariel smiled happily. "Experiencing something other than countless reams of Protoss galactic-status updates is the spice of life. You can't imagine how boring it is for me to constantly get these telepathic messages regarding which new planets, moons, and asteroid belts have been added to the Protoss observational umbrella every moment when you know that the Milky Way galaxy has three hundred billion star systems alone, all of which have trillions of asteroids where the Zerg may be hiding. The galaxy is a big place," Ariel concluded her rant.
Suddenly her face paled.
"What's the matter?"
"Not much," she said, swiftly recovering.
"You're a bad liar," remarked Daniel.
"Actually, I'm better at it than you think," Ariel answered with a smile. "What's your response if I said that just now Tassadar has been removed from his position and replaced by Tealdarin?"
"Who are Tassadar and Tealdarin?"
"Naturally you'd ask that. Tassadar was the Executor of the Protoss Expeditionary Fleet which is partially stationed here. However, the Conclave - that is, the decision-making body of our race - has concluded that by harboring your kind and not destroying Tarsonis outright he has disgraced his station. However, the debate hasn't been all that popular, with many of the Protoss believing that Tassadar's actions aren't strictly wrong. His replacement by Tealdarin is a tribute to that popular sentiment, as he is in favor of continuing positive relations with humanity."
Daniel took a moment to digest this. "Yeah, I call your B.S.," he replied with an accusatory smile.
Ariel smiled back enigmatically. "You called it, you eat it," she said, before whirling around and bounding out of the bridge like a sprite.
That evening the humans on Korhal IV - military and civilian alike - partook in a party. Wherever they were, be it in the dropships or in the trio of battlecruisers, they treated themselves to a delicious meal, complete with small amounts of caviar, venison and truffles. Everyone tried to have as much as possible of food and drink, consuming practically all of the liquor on board, for all knew that dark and difficult times lay ahead of them. As it would turn out, this meal was the last bout of gluttony that they would have for a while.
Aboard the Hyperion, the mess hall was quite large, with three very long tables side by side, each easily fitting fifty people. Beneath a high, chandelier-decorated ceiling, talented civilians played impromptu music to which the audience clapped and toasted to. Being heard was difficult, as there were constantly cheers and clanging of wine glasses. The spectacle of so many people, in a dimly lit but highly decorated chamber, enjoying themselves in the midst of a war of such massive proportions was hard to imagine. And yet there they were, talking to each other in high spirits and getting groggy from the alcohol. They had much to be happy about. They had gotten out of the massacre and bloodshed that was Tarsonis. They had finally gotten out of harm's way, establishing a foothold on Korhal IV where they could begin building a new base from which they could begin taking the war back to the enemy. They had established diplomatic relations with the enigmatic Protoss and found them to be allies in their war against the Zerg. They could see how the future could play out with humanity as ultimate victors.
At one end of the central table, Daniel and Ariel took the two seats of honor side by side and had commenced the celebration with a toast to each other with a glass of wine. The generally serious and highly crafty admiral, surrounded by his trusted colonels Christopher, Sarlena, and James and decked in a spotless black tuxedo, thoroughly enjoyed this rare moment of peaceful bliss. The human ambassador on the Protoss side had dressed in a most opulently beautiful gown and instantly brought cheer and elation to anyone she smiled at with her indescribable charm. Christopher seemed to ignore his food completely, so engrossed was he in designing the blueprints for the new armories. Sarlena was enjoying talking to Ariel and engaged with the other officials seated beside her in lively conversation. James repeatedly challenged the officials to a drinking game, shouting gruffly all the time. All about them, other members of the crew eagerly partook in the grand feast and conversed with those nearby. In the background, an instant band had begun playing their next piece.
"All right everyone, I have an announcement to make," Daniel stood up and spoke loudly so everyone could hear him and hush. "Tomorrow morning, our beautiful Ariel says, there will be a proper Salutation ceremony with the Protoss. You may actually get to meet them in person! So don't forget to get up on time - seven AM! Be there or be square! But today, we rejoice!" he declared loudly, swiftly drinking a glass of wine and raising it upside-down into the air. This was swiftly followed by wild applause and screams of joy. And so the party continued on...